By Parth Pandya Jul. 15, 2019
The most natural reaction to losing the World Cup on a technicality would have been of excessive outrage. And no one could have held it against New Zealand captain Kane Williamson were he to be taken over by anguish. It stung deep, but not even an imminent heartbreak was enough for Williamson to get carried away.
If the Universe had only slightly different plans, Kane Williamson would have been a Martin Scorsese hero. He has the suave and elegant demeanour dripping with charm, the cold-bloodedness of a silent assassin, and the candour of a man having abandoned fear. Add that beard into the mix and Williamson walks into the Goodfellas universe. But unfortunately, he only plays cricket. Nevermind that he plays the way few ever have, it’s just not enough. Williamson owes us more than simply being the best batsman in the world.In March 2018, Williamson scored an unbeaten 112 against England in an ODI played at Wellington. On a sluggish wicket where most found it hard to time the ball, the New Zealand captain just about managed to hang in there and take the game deep. In pursuit of England’s 234, New Zealand eventually fell four runs short. Williamson cut a dejected figure. But he had played one of the finest knocks in a losing cause.
A little over a year later, Williamson was supposed to be on the other side of fortune. In a World Cup final no less. At Lord’s of all places. On a pitch very similar in character to the one at Wellington, this time around New Zealand were afforded the luxury of putting runs on board first. In their chase, England were hopping, stumbling, teetering, but still somehow meandering along. In Ben Stokes, England have a champion of a lifetime and he was not going to go down easy.
Williamson knew this. He was not expecting this to be any easier. In the final over of the game, when a throw from Martin Guptill ricocheted off Stokes’ bat and added four more runs to England’s total, Williamson, for the first time that day, looked disheartened. There was no way this would have happened on any other day. There was no way a contest this big, with so much at stake, was going to be decided on a stroke of luck as bizarre as this. In that moment, Williamson was humanised. He had to stomach what was happening in front of him and there was no place to hide.
In his post-match press conference, Williamson talked about the “uncontrollables”.
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In his post-match press conference, Williamson talked about the “uncontrollables”. It was a very interesting and yet the most appropriate choice of words. The arbitrariness of the rule at the end of the Super Over to separate the inseparable teams will continue to be debated until the cows come home, but the fine margin that decided this game in England’s favour was the four runs off the overthrows. The most natural reaction to something so inexplicable would have been of excessive outrage. And no one could have held it against Williamson were he to be taken over by anguish.
Many of his more famous contemporaries would have made the wrong headlines for their behaviour in that moment. But Williamson merely smirked and moved on. He knew it had passed and there was nothing he could have done to reverse it. Of course it stung deep. He must have felt like smashing his head against a wall. But not even an imminent heartbreak was enough for Williamson to get carried away.
Not for a moment though, should his grace be confused for lack of intensity. Williamson is as fiery a competitor as any. And that truly reflects in the stratospheric numbers he delivered with the bat at this World Cup. With the fourth highest aggregate runs in the tournament, Williamson has now scored the most runs in a particular World Cup edition as captain. And this qualification is very important to contextualise his performances.
Williamson’s knock in Wellington quite aptly represents the World Cup he has had. Almost single-handedly shouldering the burden of scoring runs, Williamson has had to completely turn a blind eye to his strike rate. Scoring only 75 runs per 100 balls in the tournament, it is a far cry from the rate at which the fellow big names have scored. But Williamson has been absolutely clear about what his role in the team is.
Unlike the other contenders, New Zealand have not had the luxury of too many people turning up with the bat. Every other senior batsman in the team has had a fairly average campaign and Williamson has more often than not made up for them. An astonishing 28.5 per cent of the team’s aggregate runs have come from the skipper’s bat. The tournament’s top two run-scorers Rohit Sharma and David Warner have batted with the mental comfort of the likes of Virat Kohli and Steve Smith to follow them.
Every other senior batsman in the team has had a fairly average campaign and Williamson has more often than not made up for them.
Williamson never quite had the same luxury and yet at every decisive point in the tournament, he has raised his game and ensured his bowlers have enough cover of runs to be able to consistently attack the opposition. New Zealand have played a very smart brand of cricket without being unreasonably ambitious and that has been the cornerstone of coming within a hair’s breadth of claiming the highest prize. The team has lacked both firepower at the top and a dasher at the death, but in Williamson they have had a leader who they can trust to find answers.
But it’s not like Williamson has always had all the answers. In addition to his brilliance, the team has relied on some incredible luck to come this far themselves. But where Williamson – much like his predecessor Brendon McCullum – stands out is his calming persona and his confidence in his players, which more often than not ensure this New Zealand unit amounts to something decisively more than the sum of its parts.
In any moment of crisis, the team has looked up to Williamson and he has not once disappointed. And that has played a significant role in him quite justifiably beating people with more prolific numbers to bag the Player of the Tournament prize.
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His brand of leadership is very ideally suited to a team aiming to make the most of its limited resources and punch upward. In any moment of crisis, the team has looked up to Williamson and he has not once disappointed. And that has played a significant role in him quite justifiably beating people with more prolific numbers to bag the Player of the Tournament prize.
On another day, Williamson would have held the trophy that eventually went Eoin Morgan’s way. Perhaps on any other day. But sadly, that realisation may not be enough to heal the wounds of a disconsolate man who has somehow managed to wear a smile for the world. Williamson will play more World Cups. He may win one. He may have more heartbreaks in store. But years later, when the 2019 World Cup is recorded for history, there will be just as much written about the one who did not win it as about the one who did. And Williamson will be at the heart of that tale.